RUSS 086 / LITR 086R, Fall 2014
Monday 1:15-4:00
Kohlberg 328

Sibelan Forrester
Kohlberg 340
tel. 610-328-8162
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Office Hours, Fall 2014:
Monday, 11:00-12:00
Tuesday, 10:30-12:00
Friday, 11:00-12:00

Readings | Assignments | Syllabus

From pre-Christian folklore based in forest, steppe and tundra to today's Neo-Pagans, Russian culture has traditionally been close to nature, developing sustainable agricultural practices, honoring "Moist Mother Earth," and heading even (and perhaps especially) from cities to favorite secret spots in the woods to gather berries and mushrooms. Industrial development was slow in the pre-Revolutionary period and in many ways the traditional way of life continued among the majority peasant population. Yet Soviet policy planned to redesign whole landscapes, make rivers flow backwards, and even change the nature of plant genetics. In practice, projects like these oppressed convict laborers, shrank the Aral Sea, and led to massive pollution and the worst nuclear disaster in human history. Writers in Russia have both supported industrial transformation and resisted industrialization. This new course will trace the evolution of these elements of Russian culture, focusing on expressions of ideology in literature.

No knowledge of Russian is necessary; students with Russian language skills may do some reading in the original.

Course Goals: To learn abut the environment and environmental history of Russia's huge land mass, and how they are reflected in Russian literature and culture; to pursue one area of interest through more focused research to a final paper and presentation; to practice writing about the intersections of science, technology and nature with folklore, literature and other forms of cultural production.

This web version of the syllabus will be updated throughout the semester as necessary; please bookmark it and consider it the authoritative source.

Accommodations Statement:
If you believe that you need accommodations for a disability, please contact Leslie Hempling in the Office of Student Disability Services (Parrish 113) or email to arrange an appointment to discuss your needs. As appropriate, she will issue students with documented disabilities a formal Accommodations Letter. Since accommodations require early planning and are not retroactive, please contact her as soon as possible. For details about the accommodations process, visit the Student Disability Service Website. You are also welcome to contact me [the faculty member] privately to discuss your academic needs. However, all disability-related accommodations must be arranged through Leslie Hempling in the Office of Student Disability Services.

To Buy in the Bookstore or Otherwise Acquire:

  1. Ivan Turgenev, Sketches from a Hunter's Album (NB: This has been translated under a number of similar titles.)
  2. John Scott, Behind the Urals
  3. Vasily Grossman, Everything Flows
  4. Valentin Rasputin, Farewell to Matyora
  5. Fazil Iskander, The Goatibex Constellation
  6. Julia Voznesenskaya, The Star Chernobyl
  7. Margaret Paxson, Solovyovo
  8. Paul Josephson, et al., eds., An Environmental History of Russia

Other readings will be provided on Moodle.


  1. Class Blog: post about 500 words each week of comments or questions about the reading, after the first week. This is a good place to float ideas for paper topics. A link to the course blog is at the top of the Moodle page for this course; let me know if you have any trouble with it.
  2. First, short paper is due September 29. 5 pages on reflections of the environment in one of the works we have read.
  3. A one-hour, take-home midterm examination, self-scheduled, due October 20.
  4. Second, longer paper, due November 17: 10 pages examining how one work we have read presents issues of environmental degradation, protection or restoration.
  5. At some point during the semester: a 10- or 15-minute oral presentation based on one of the background reading sources. Pick something related to your final project!
  6. Final project: A study of an issue from the list below (or a similar issue, selected after consultation with the professor). This may be in the form of a web page, a poster accompanied by detailed guiding notes, or a paper. Be ready to speak about it briefly in class: December 1; final materials due no later than December 20. (The long time before it's finally due gives you enough rope to hang yourself: don't leave it till the last minute!)

Potential Final Project Topics:

  1. Traditional agricultural and forest “trade” practices (hunting, fishing, woodcutting) and their relationship to the environment; traditions of sustainability in fragile ecosystems
  2. Russian Orthodox religion and the human presence (nature-loving saints; monastery properties; the ecology of the Solovki islands)
  3. Peasantry into proletariat: Marxist and Bolshevik theories and their implications for people's relationship with the earth
  4. Peasant writers as distinct voices about the earth (Kol'tsov; Kliuev; Esenin; Village Prose writers; post-Soviet prose about the village)
  5. Sakhalin then and now -- starting with Anton Chekhov's book Sakhalin Island and Bruce Grant's In the Soviet House of Culture
  6. The GULag environment over time; humans in extreme conditions, mining the GULag
  7. Vavilov versus Lysenko and the (unproductive) ideologization of botany
  8. Trashing the neighbors: industrial projects in the non-Russian former Soviet republics, or exporting Soviet-style industry to socialist Eastern Europe
  9. Lake Baikal
  10. The Aral Sea
  11. The Soviet space program, or the Russian space program today
  12. Use value versus prestige: industrial production and the Socialist-era or post-Socialist consumer
  13. The closed city: academic and technical silos; Irina Grekova's At the Tests
  14. Post-Soviet clean-up (or not)
  15. The Baltic Sea; the White Sea; the Black Sea
  16. Protected land in Russia today
  17. The Far East
  18. The Russian Arctic
  19. Native peoples and the environment
  20. Protected species and poachers in Russia today
  21. Nuclear power and the environment
  22. Energy production in Russia today

Partial Bibliography



Week 1: September 1

Readings in class: excerpt from The Primary Chronicle; excerpt from Linda Ivanits, Russian Folk Belief; excerpts from Neonila Krinichnaya, Forest Delusions (photocopies, but also on Moodle)
Video: “Radioactive Wolves” (about wildlife and ecologists in the Chernobyl area today)
(Background reading: Richard Pipes, “The Environment and Its Consequences,” from Pipes, Russia Under the Old Regime, pp. 1-24, on Moodle.)

Week 2: September 8

Ivan Turgenev, Sketches from a Hunter's Album (bookstore): "Khor and Kalynich" (pp. 15-28), "Yermolay and the Miller's Wife" (29-41), "Farmer Ovsyannikov" (70-87), "Bezhin Lea" (99-120), "Kasyan from the Beautiful Lands" (121-140), "Loner" (173-181), "Death" (217-230), "Meeting" (265-274), "Living Relic" (354-367), "Forest and Steppe" (383-390); Leo Tolstoy, excerpts from Anna Karenina (Part I, Chapters XXVI and XXVII, and Part II, Chapters XII and XIII, on Moodle); Turgenev, "A Journey to Polesje," pp. 308-325, on Moodle; Jane Costlow, "Walking into the Woodland with Turgenev," from Costlow, Heart-Pine Russia, pp. 17-39, on Moodle
(Background readings: Olga Semynova Tian-Shanskaya, Village Life in Late Tsarist Russia, chapters 8-9, pp. 117-156, on Moodle.)

Weeb 3: September 15

Fedor Gladkov, excerpt from Cement, pp. 12-18 (on Moodle); John Scott, Behind the Urals (bookstore)
(Background readings: Paul Josephson et al., “From Geographic Determinism to Political and Economic Factors,” in An Environmental History of Russia (bookstore), pp. 1-22; Andrei Platonov, from The Sun, the Moon, and the Ether Channel, pp. 584-615, on Moodle; Valentin Kataev, excerpts from Time, Forward!, pp. 42-48, 72-75, 84-49, 93-98, on Moodle; Stephen Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization)

Week 4: September 22

Vasily Grossman, Everything Flows (bookstore); Vladimir Korolenko, excerpt from In a Hungry Year (on Moodle); excerpt from The Primary Chronicle (on Moodle)
(Background readings: Josephson et al., "From Imperial to Socialist Nature Preservation: Environmental Protection and Resource Development in the Russian Empire," in An Environmental History of Russia, pp. 23-70; Richard G. Robbins Jr., Famine in Russia 1891-1892: The Imperial Government Responds to a Crisis; Robert Conquest, Harvest of Sorrow; Sheila Fitzpatrick, Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village After Collectivization)

Week 5: September 29

Anton Chekhov, excerpt from Sakhalin Island, pp. 128-136 (on Moodle); Varlam Shalamov, selections from Kolyma Tales (on Moodle); excerpts from Gorky, ed., Belomor, pp. 17-23, 59-64, 73-87, 289-297 (on Moodle)
(Background readings: Josephson et al., "Stalinism: Creating the Socialist Industrial, Urban, and Agricultural Environment," in An Environmental History of Russia, pp. 71-135; Evgeniia Ginzburg, Within the Whirlwind; Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The GULag Archipelago; Galina M. Ivanova, Labor Camp Socialism: The Gulag in the Soviet Totalitarian System, ed. by Donald Raleigh, trans. by Carol Flath)

Visitor: Audrey Wood-Bianchi, until recently of Pacific Environment, will be in class with us today.

Week 6: October 6

Valentin Rasputin, Farewell to Matyora (bookstore); Aleksei Leonov, "Kondyr" (on Moodle)
(Background readings: Kathleen Parthé, "'Kondyr': A Parametric Analysis," from Russian Village Prose: The Radiant Past, pp. 140-148 (on Moodle); Paul Josephson et al., "The Khrushchev Reforms, Environmental Politics, and the Awakening of Environmentalism, 1953-1964," in An Environmental History of Russia, pp. 136-183; Kathleen R. Parthé, Russian Village Prose: The Radiant Past)


Week 7: October 20

Leo Tolstoy, "How Much land Does a Man Need?" (on Moodle); Alexander Solzhenitsyn, "Matryona’s Yard" (on Moodle); Nikolai Zlatovratskii, "The Happy Peasant's Dream" (excerpt from the novel Foundations, on Moodle)
(Background Readings: Henri Troyat, Daily Life in Russia Under the Last Tsar; Anton Chekhov, Sakhalin Island; Olga Semyonova Tian-Shanskaia, Village Life in Late Tsarist Russia, ed. David Ransel)

Week 8: October 27

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Far Rainbow (on Moodle)
(Background readings: Ethan Pollock, Stalin and the Soviet Science Wars; Anindita Banerjee, We Modern People: Science Fiction and the Making of Russian Modernity; James T. Andrews, Red Cosmos: K. E. Tsiolkovskii, Grandfather of Soviet Rocketry; Asif A. Siddiqi, The Red Rockets’ Glare: Spaceflight and the Soviet Imagination, 1857-1957)

Lecture: Matthew Mangold of Rutgers University will speak at 4:30 p.m. on OCTOBER 28 in Kohlberg 116 about Chekhov's writings about the environment and its impact on human health! "Writing as a Doctor: Chekhov, Environments, and HUmans." Drop me a line if you need more information:

Week 9: MNovember 3

Fazil' Iskander, The Goatibex Constellation (purchase)
(Background readings: Josephson et al., “Developed Socialism, Environmental Degradation, and the Time of Economic ‘Stagnation,’ 1964-1985,” in An Environmental History of Russia, pp. 184-253; Andrei Bitov, The Monkey Link; Peter Pringle, The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov: The Story of Stalin’s Persecution of One of the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Scientists; Roli-Hansen, Nils.The Lysenko Effect: The Politics of Science; David Dent, Soil as World Heritage)

Week 10: November 10

Iuliia Voznesenskaya, The Star Chernobyl (purchase); Svetlana Alexievich, excerpts from Voices from Chernobyl (on Moodle)
(Background readings: Svetlana Alexievich, Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, trans. by Keith Gessen; Grigorii Medvedev, The Truth About Chernobyl; Alla Yaroshinskaya, Chernobyl: The Forbidden Truth, trans. by Michèle Kahn and Julia Sallabank, foreword by John Gofman, Intro. by David R. Marpes)

Week 11: November 17

Margaret Paxson, Solovyovo: The Story of Memory in a Russian Village (bookstore); Vasily Shukshin, "Wolves" and excerpts from From the Childhood Years of Ivan Popov, from Stories from a Siberian Village, pp. 127-133, 228-235 (on Moodle)
(Background readings: Josephson et al., "Gorbachev’s Reforms, Glasnost, and Econationalism," in An Environmental History of Russia, pp. 254-286; Laura J. Olson and Svetlana Adonyeva, The Worlds of Russian Village Women: Tradition, Transgression, Compromise)

Week 12: November 24

Vyacheslav Gerovich and Anton Struchkov, "Epilogue: Russian Reflections," 9 pp. (on Moodle); Lydia Zinovieva-Annibal, "Wolves," from The Tragic Menagerie, pp. 20-37 (on Moodle); Anatoly Kim, excerpts from Father Forest (on Moodle)
(Josephson et al., "Conclusion: After the Breakup of the Soviet Union: Inheriting the Environmental Legacy," in An Environmental History of Russia, pp. 287-320; Leonid Leonov, The Russian Forest: A Novel; Feliks Shtilmark, History of the Russian Zapovedniks 1895-1995)

Week 13: December 1

Vladimir Korolenko, "Svetloyar: In a Wild and Holy Place," translated by Jane Costlow, pp. 222-236 (on Moodle); Elena Hellberg-Hirn, "Mother Russia: Soil and Soul," from Hellbirg-Hirn, Soil and Soul: The Symbolic World of Russianness, pp. 111-135; Poems by Velimir Khlebnikov and Nikolai Kliuev (on Moodle)
(Background readings: Michael D. Gordin, The Pseudo-Science Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe; Jane I. Dawson, Eco-Nationalism: Anti-Nuclear Activism and National Identity in Russia, Lithuania, and Ukraine)

Brief presentations of your final projects.

Final project: due by DECEMBER 20